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Oceana Magazine Fall 2008: Making Waves

Costco posts mercury warnings

In response to pressure from Oceana and its supporters, wholesale chain Costco decided in July to begin posting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning about mercury in seafood. The announcement came just as Oceana released a report on the status of its campaign to persuade stores to post signs.

Oceana’s report, Super Markets: Grocers Increasingly Posting Mercury Signs at Seafood Counters, showed that the number of stores posting signs nearly tripled since the initial analysis conducted two years earlier.
With Costco, Kroger and Harris Teeter now posting the signs, more than 6,400 grocery stores nationwide post the FDA warning. Oceana’s Green List now accounts for 36 percent of the major grocery stores in the country. 

The state of Washington had the greatest percentage of stores posting signs with 95 percent of its major grocery stores on Oceana’s Green List, largely due to decisions made by Safeway and Costco. In contrast, fewer than 2 percent of the major stores in Florida, Iowa and Oklahoma were posting signs.

“This is an exciting victory because it enables so many more shoppers to get the information they need to protect themselves and their families,” said Jackie Savitz, Oceana’s senior director for pollution campaigns. “Mercury contamination can cause developmental problems in young children, so education is key.”

Costco is the fourth largest general retailer in the United States, after Wal-Mart, the Home Depot and Kroger, and operates approximately 386 warehouse stores in 40 U.S. states.

To learn more and to find out if your local grocery store posts the FDA warning, visit the Green List at www.


Chile Protects Whales

In June, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet issued a decree indefinitely extending a moratorium on hunting whales that was due to expire in 2025. In addition, President Bachelet approved legislation to create a whale sanctuary in all Chilean waters. This includes 3.3 million square miles of ocean, a space as big as the continental United States. 

President Bachelet’s declaration came after campaigning by Oceana and other conservation groups. She announced the decree from a whaling processingplant- turned-museum in Quintay, Chile, on the opening day of the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting, held this year in Santiago.

While a whale sanctuary already exists in the Southern Ocean, Japan has continued to hunt whales under the guise of scientific research. The new sanctuary would prevent any hunting – scientific or otherwise – in Chilean waters. Bachelet’s bill would criminalize whaling, punishable by imprisonment. In addition, the bill would require regulation of whale watching businesses to ensure their sustainability. 

Oceana will continue to campaign for approval of the new sanctuary by the Chilean parliament. 

Chile’s 2,700 miles of coastline serve as an important migratory corridor for whales. The new sanctuary will be home to half the world’s cetacean species, including critically endangered blue whales, the largest animal ever to live on earth.


World's largest fishery to reduce discarded salmon catch

The world’s largest fishery has taken the first step toward reducing wasteful king salmon bycatch. After pressure from Oceana and its allies, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council moved forward in June on capping salmon bycatch in the Alaska pollock fishery.

In 2007, the Alaska pollock fishery caught and killed a record 130,000 king salmon as unintentional bycatch, more than two times the amount caught in 2003. Many of these salmon killed as bycatch would have otherwise returned to rivers in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest this year. Also known as chinook salmon, the population of these fish has dropped so low that salmon harvests in Alaska have declined considerably, and the 2008 salmon season was cancelled in Oregon and California. Just 70,000 salmon returned to spawn in the Sacramento River last fall, less than one-tenth of the amount that returned in 2001.

“Salmon stocks are in trouble throughout the Pacific,” said Jon Warrenchuk, a marine scientist with Oceana. “Wasting salmon as bycatch is unconscionable. A cap on salmon bycatch in the pollock fishery is long overdue.”

Under the proposed plan, the pollock fishery would be allowed to catch no more than 68,392 king salmon as bycatch, the average number of salmon caught from 2004 to 2006. Upon reaching that number, the pollock fishery would close for the rest of the season.The cap is contingent upon the pollock industry establishing an incentive program that also addresses bycatch on a vessel-by-vessel basis.

The Alaska pollock fishery catches more than two billion pounds of pollock a year, often bound for America’s fast food restaurants in the form of frozen fish sticks.


Pristine ecosystem preserved

In August, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service closed nearly 180,000 square miles of the Bering Sea to destructive bottom trawling. The closure brings the total area in the north Pacific Ocean protected from bottom trawling to nearly 700,000 miles, and the total for the entire Pacific to 830,000 square miles, more than five times the size of California. In an approach first designed by Oceana and supported by other conservation organizations and local communities, the closures prevent the expansion of trawling into pristine areas, ensuring protections for rare ecosystems for generations to come.


U.S. bears down on shark finning

In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2008, which significantly strengthens laws governing shark fishing and cements the United States' position as a leader in shark protections worldwide. Senator John Kerry introduced the bill in the Senate where it is still awaiting action.

The Shark Conservation Act would require sharks be landed with fins still naturally attached. Shark finning - the removal of shark fins at sea and dumping of shark bodies overboard - was banned in the United States in 2000, but the current law still allows shark fins to be cut off the bodies at sea as long as the fins and carcasses are brought to port in a specified fin-to-carcass weight ratio. This system is difficult to enforce, and collecting data on the species caught is nearly impossible because many sharks look similar with their fins removed.

In addition, the legislation closes a loophole that currently allows for the transfer of shark fins without Shark Conservation Act of 2008 also allows the United States to take action against other countries with weaker regulations.

Joined by 11,000 Wavemakers who contacted their individual representatives, Oceana pushed for the strengthened protections. Now, Oceana and its allies will work to ensure that the U.S. Senate passes the bill. The fishing industry kills more than 100 million sharks a year, including endangered species. Sharks are highly vulnerable to pressure from fishing because of their
slow growth and infrequent reproduction.

"This bill will set a standard for the rest of the world to follow and will allow for effective enforcement and data collection, which will be essential for protecting sharks," said Elizabeth Griffin, a marine scientist with Oceana.